Friday, May 14, 2010

A Trio of Pynchon Reviews

Remember a long time ago I confessed to not being able to finish Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day? Well. I decided that I was going to defeat my personal Hydra of literature and read some Pynchon. Little did I know that once I finished one, I had to read them all. So here, for your reading pleasure, are mini-reviews of the three Pynchon novels I read in the past three weeks.

 I decided to start with his first novel, published in 1963. It's the saga of Benny Profane, Stencil, the Whole Sick Crew, and the mysterious mercurial woman called V. Alternating between episodes of Benny and the Crew, their misadventures, and a multigenerational epic spanning the globe in the past, charting the path of V.

Once I got a handle on Pynchon's bizarre and all over the map writing style, I realized that V. is a fun, hilarious book about everything. It's the kitchen sink approach to writing that threw me off about Against the Day, but here, it absolutely made the novel for me. From the hilarious names, to groan inducing puns, to proto-steampunk elements, to scary moments of "otherness", this book has it all.

Upon finishing V. I tried going back to Delillo and reading Underworld, but Delillo's flat style did nothing for me. What I wanted was Pynchon. I wanted his zany voice, his wacky characters and Star Trek references. I wanted more.

The Crying of Lot 49
The shortest of his novels, more of a novella, this features Oedipa Maas unraveling a labyrinthine conspiracy about an alternative mail delivery conspiracy, including an underground society, the bones of GIs being used to make cigarette filters, music groups, and everything in between.

Even though this book is short, it is filled to the brim. Ostensibly a potboiler, it lets the readers have a glimpse at a more paranoid and darker reality, the one beneath the surface. This metaphor extends through all that I've read about Pynchon, that there exists something deeper than what the straights and squares would have you believe.

I really liked this book, but I wished it had been much longer. I was left wanting more. So I kept going.

Inherent Vice
Instead of going with the next book chronologically (Gravity's Rainbow), I went with his most recent, and apparently more accessible work. This novel is Pynchon's twist on the detective fiction, set in the Free Love era of the 60's in a Californian surfing suburb, where everybody smokes pot and has no idea what's going on.

I'm decently well-read with detective fiction (I own two biographies about Raymond Chandler) so I was hugely entertained by Pynchon's spoof. Metaphors used so perfectly in The Long Goodbye and in Chinatown, are twisted and fogged by drugs. It's quite hilarious.

While Inherent Vice is more accessible than, say, V. or Gravity's Rainbow, it's not easy. This is one of the most over complicated mysteries I've ever read, almost out-complicating Ellroy's L.A. Quartet. I'm not even fully convinced that all the pieces fit. But a tidy resolution is not a requirement of detective fiction.

They say for Pynchon newbies to just let everything wash over you, and then on the second or third reading, the intricacies and meanings will be more clear to the reader. I will certainly agree that I missed tons, I'm sure. I can't wait to re-read all of Pynchon's stuff, and tease out what I can. But first, I have to finish Against The Day.

I know that I completely switched my stance on Pynchon, but I think I just wasn't ready to read Against the Day. It's over a 1000 pages of his unique insanity, and I needed to work my way up to that. Now I'm ready for his tricks.

Keep checking back for more updates. I'm already 50 pages into Vineland, and Gravity's Rainbow is next.

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